I use the words "I'm sorry" to mean two different things. One being "I apologize for wronging you" and the other, "I empathize with your situation".

90+% I'm using it as the latter, however, my spouse (and other people) often respond along the lines of "It's not your fault".

What is a good alternative to way to convey "I empathize" to my spouse to show her I care for her troubles without always sounding like I'm apologizing?

This question is very similar to this and somewhat this, however, the answers to those are more targeted at responding to strangers, acquaintances, friends, etc. They are not as relevant for someone I spend a significant amount of time with, and say this to as often as a dozen times a day.

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    Try "Oh no, that's really rubbish" or phrases to that effect. – Max Williams Feb 5 '18 at 15:50
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    Have you considered our sister site for Interpersonal Skills? – tchrist Feb 5 '18 at 15:51
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    @MaxWilliams Gotta be careful with that - on first reading, I thought you were being sarcastic. On the other hand, intonation and body language come into play when the phrase is conveyed in person. – Lawrence Feb 5 '18 at 16:03
  • @tchrist I considered it, but I feel the question is more applicable here because I'm primarily looking for better phrasing rather than the related interpersonal aspects of conveying my attitude. – TerekC Feb 5 '18 at 16:11
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    @Michael_B Interesting comment, and you're probably right that it warrants further thought on my part. I think it's a combination of her being prone to complaining and perhaps somewhat victimizing of herself, and myself prone to empathizing that leads to me saying it so often. – TerekC May 8 '18 at 21:47

I'm sorry to hear that.

Then you're not apologizing. You're expressing empathy and compassion.

The response: "It's not your fault." doesn't fit anymore.

Even better (especially since it's directed at your spouse):

I'm sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help?

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  • or sing it: "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", a 1982 song by Chicago! – lbf Feb 5 '18 at 16:32

I have a very sweet auntie who is always very sympathetic.

She will usually just say "Oh, sweetheart" or "Oh, [first name]" to show empathy. If the news is really bad, she will say "Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry."

A lot of it has to do with her tone of voice (descending in pitch). And it's probably the so, but you never feel the "I'm so sorry" is an apology.

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